"Fungus", "plastic", and "edible" are three words you probably wouldn't think would go together, but Austria-based Livin Studio is keen to make you think again. It is responsible for the Fungal Mutarium, a prototype terrarium that uses bioremediation techniques to destroy plastic while creating edible fungus creations in the form of little pods that can be flavored and filled.
Using mushrooms for bioremediation, the use of organisms to remove or neutralize pollutants, is not new. Pleurotus ostreatus, or what you commonly know as the oyster mushrooms floating in your Chinese takeout, is a common species for bioremediation. Schizophyllum c. is less well known in the West, but commonly eaten in parts of Asia and Mexico. Both species are used in the Mutarium along with an agar substrate, and of course, plastic.
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The process is relatively simple, at least for how one might imagine making plastic edible. In both the preliminary research and in the Mutarium itself, the plastic is in the form of sheets and is exposed to UV light first to sterilize and to begin breaking down the plastic.
Next, cups called "FU" are molded out of a mixture of agar, starch, and glucose and act as a medium for the fungus to grow on. Plastic is inserted into the inner core of the FU, and the fungal mycelium is poured over the plastic. As the mycelium grow, they break down the plastic while colonizing the agar.
If the end product greatly resembles something that's been growing in your fridge for too long, that evaluation is not far off the mark. Mold is after all a fungus, and the oyster mushroom floating in your soup is in fact only the fruiting body, the end product of mycelium meeting and mating.
Eating fungal-colonized agar that's only a few weeks growth distant from plastic may not seem like the most tasty hors d'oeuvre, so Livin Studio went to some lengths to elevate its palatability. Mixing spices into the agar medium not only adds flavor and color, but doesn't affect the growth, and a custom-designed set of "Fungi Cutlery" specialize in scooping up FU pods.
Just a few months ago, Gizmag saw the use of dirty diapers in colonizing 'shrooms (though not meant for human consumption), so while fungi was initially a tool of bioremediation, a shift is happening to simultaneously clean our surroundings while feeding our faces.
The design is based around research conducted by Han Wösten at Utrecht University and funded through the Bio Art and Design Award, which encourages pushing the boundaries of research.
The video below takes an FU from initial research to being filled with sauce and looking disturbingly ready to eat.
Source: Livin Studio